The breathtaking feeling of coming face-to-face with a wild animal can’t be beat: whether it’s tracking elusive tigers in India’s Ranthambore National Park, spotting majestic elephants in the Southeast Asian jungle or looking out for the Big 5 on the plains of East Africa, going on safari is one of travel’s most primeval pleasures.
That’s not to say that creature comforts should be sacrificed. When you’ve finished your game drives and binocular-based outings, head back to some of the world’s best luxury safari lodges which cater to your every need, desire, and whim. From infinity pools looking over the wild to suppers under the stars cooked just for you, here are the world’s finest luxury safari holidays.
Lion Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
Sandwiched between the spellbinding Sabi Sands Game Reserve and epic Kruger National Park is Lion Sands Game Reserve – a privately-owned wilderness. Small though it may be, there’s plenty of opportunity to spot the Big 5, plus 137 other mammals and over 450 types of bird.
The six luxury safari lodges at Lion Sands have facilities ranging from private plunge pools and rejuvenating outdoor showers to open-air lounges overlooking the Sabie River and wooden walkways through the bush that encourage pure connection with nature – without leaving the hotel.
While you’re on your safari adventure, the lodge preps an exclusive “Riverbed Dinner” BBQ, where you can share the day’s sightings with other guests over a glass of carefully-selected Cape wine.
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Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, South Africa
Nearby is another private reserve, Sabi Sabi – a luxury african safari with a difference. Beyond the Big 5, keep your eyes peeled for the Sabi Secret Seven: the serval, African wildcat, large-spotted genet, civet, aardvark, pangolin and porcupine.
After a morning game drive, head back to base at Bush Lodge. Priding itself on its contemporary and colourful African decoration, take high tea with fresh fruit and sugar-scattered macarons before sipping a complimentary cocktail on your secluded patio, revelling in a calming coconut-infused African massage or kicking back in flowing, open-plan suites which allow the wildlife to serenade you to sleep.
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Nahargarh, Ranthambore, India
As luxury safari holidays go, Nahargarh is one-of-a-kind. This palatial hotel just beyond the bounds of big cat-packed Ranthambore National Park invites its guests to live like maharajahs and maharanis: intricate mirrors and Mughal floral accents cover the Royal Dining Hall, where plates of only the most regal Rajasthani dishes are served; think buttery roti and slow-cooked curried lamb. Outside in the sunshine, the square-shaped pool resembles a traditional bathing ghat, where marble steps into the water lead you to float away into a trance-like state.
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Aman-i-Khas, Ranthambore, India
Some luxury safari experiences can be just a little wild. The luxury safari tents at Ranthambore’s Aman-i-Khas are something special, with high-ceilinged bedrooms, luxuriant freestanding baths and personal butlers for each party, but it’s the experiences that set this safari camp apart.
Each day gets off to a good start with complimentary morning yoga sessions in the jungle, and the hotel encourages guests to further immerse themselves in Indian ritual by offering free mehndi (henna) sessions for women and outdoor shaves with traditional barbers for men. And, for a safari with a twist, try a guided ride through Rajasthan on a princely Marwari horse.
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Hapuku Lodge, Kaikoura, New Zealand
New Zealand isn’t usually known for its safaris, but these luxury safari lodges and treehouses on the coast of South Island make bringing binoculars a must. The coastal waters around Kaikoura are ideal territory for marine safaris: they’re home to a permanent population of sperm whales, plus visiting orcas, seals, and dolphins, which you can meet on a locally-operated boat tour. In the skies above the lodge, albatrosses, fintails and bellbirds soar.
The area where Hapuku Lodge is located is known as “house of food” in the local Maori dialect, so stop by the dining room after the day’s adventures to be served platefuls of produce grown on the lodge grounds (from figs to pumpkins), plus succulent fish sourced from the market that morning. Afterwards, get comfy with some chocolates in your room’s soaking tub or custom-designed bed.
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Forest Lodge, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
A luxury African safari destination close to buzzing Cape Town, the sand dunes around Grootbos are home to a fascinating array of plant and animal life, including endemic and vibrant fynbos (heathlands); best seen from the reserve’s open-top 4×4. Meanwhile, the marine ‘Big 5’ swim in the oceans close to the lodge – that’s whales, dolphins, sharks, penguins and seals – and cage diving to meet Great Whites is on offer. Those who prefer to play it safe can also admire the mighty swash from the comfort of Forest Lodge’s soothingly warm infinity pool.
Shinta Mani Wild, Cambodia
These lodges in the Southern Cardamom National Park were inspired by the elegant Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ Cambodian safari in the 1960s. The luxury safari tents at Shinta Mani Wild, sitting pretty on the side of a serene waterfall, take notes from her effortless glamour – one is even filled with photos from her trip – but each polished-teak tent has its own personality.
From the moment you check in, an ‘Adventure Butler’ acts as a friendly, all-knowing guide to the landscape. They’ll accompany you on river safaris, camera-trapping operations, and anti-poaching patrols, but they’ll also anticipate your every need, from unpacking your luggage to folding the towels kept beside your outdoor bath.
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Rosewood Luang Prabang, Laos
The verdant jungles of Laos were once filled with Asian elephants – gentle giants known for their curiosity and playfulness, now only numbering in their hundreds. The luxury safari tents at Rosewood Luang Prabang (carefully created to represent both French colonial and indigenous Laotian designs) are just a 25-minute drive from Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary, where the resident conservationist Prasop works tirelessly to re-train rescued elephants for the wild. After your elephant-meeting experience, join Prasop for a cocktail to learn more about his life’s work.
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